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The BMW 328 and its early competition successes, especially when considering the youth of the BMW brand at the time, are key components as to why it is so highly regarded today. From a brand that found its roots very much in aeroplane and motorcycle engine building; the curation of available parts to create the best possible result was the best option for the marque which lacked the resources of its larger rivals of the time.
Born from the acquisition of the Dixi works in 1928 – a factory that had been manufacturing the Austin Seven under licence, BMW had found their way into to automotive manufacture. The Dixi was evolved and developed over time, gaining swing-axle suspension, and overhead valves. Continued development saw their automotive offering improve over time and in 1933, BMW launched their first six-cylinder powered car, the 303. Road-holding was greatly improved through the use of a more conventional live axle whilst the steering moved to a rack and pinion set up. These efforts would pave the way for more power and increasingly sporty models going forward.
The ‘mix and match’ approach to model development had served BMW well, the 328 utilised a tubular chassis, independent front suspension and the live rear axle of the preceding 319 combined with the cylinder block and hydraulic brakes of the 326. Turning away from the traditional heavyweight strengthening, the 328 used a chassis that was stiff but primarily light – merits which allowed the car to be softly sprung.
The engine received a bespoke head with hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves, that still allowed for the Type 326 engine’s single camshaft and pushrod valves to be retained. Down-draught inlet ports supported flexibility in tuning and meant the engine would be a popular motorsports choice well past its years. The engine produced 80bhp; a healthy sum for a 2.0litre engine of the time and more available with some fettling.
The first 328s were available from late summer in 1936 and unlike the prototypes, they received doors and a convertible roof. The lightweight construction and considerable power output meant the 328 would be a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack. BMW won its class at the Mille Miglia in 1938 and two years later, the 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupe would win overall. Elsewhere BMW took victories at Le Mans, Spa 24hrs and at the Tourist Trophy.
In 1934, AFN Ltd concluded an agreement with BMW to import their cars into the UK, to be sold under the Frazer-Nash BMW banner. The bodywork would in fact be shared between British companies and others built by BMW prior to dispatch. In 1938, a Frazer-Nash BMW in production trim successfully completed more than 100 miles in an hour at Brooklands loop.
The 328 remained successful after the war and its engine would remain as the base for many race cars well into the 1950s. Between 1936 and 1939 only 426 examples were produced, of which fewer than 200 are known to survive today. Of the total production, just 48 examples were imported to the UK by AFN and sold in right hand drive.